By: Kelly Riley
The soft morning light pulled us out of bed. We wandered out of our room to discover the resort, which previously occupied by only us, to be buzzing with workers. They brushed the pool, cleaned the signs and cut the lawn. It was as if an alarm went out overnight that the resort suddenly had guests. They all looked up as we walked out to the bar/dining area, saying hello. Another woman appeared and began to ask us about our day.
“We wanted to go see the volcanos,” Nadia said and she told us she would call a friend of hers to drive us. We sat at a table and nibbled on some pastries we had bought at the 7eleven the night before, and sipped on instant coffee they graciously poured for us. Soon the whir of a dirt bike engine announced the arrival of our new driver. The man looked to be in his thirties and had the cutest copilot, his six year old son. We thought maybe he brought him along to put us at ease. We thanked our hosts and slid into the rickshaw.
This made ride number 3 in these tricycles, and it had started to become quite normal, and actually quite nice. Our driver’s son sat in front of him, gripping the handle bars, little green sandals slapping against his feet in the breeze. It was a stark contrast to children in America. If anyone drove with their child like this, they would be instantly pulled over. But I never feared for this child’s life, and he most certainly did not. It seemed the children of Tagaytay could embrace their wild wonder and live life on the edge….of course with parental supervision.
We drove back into town and this time made a left down a smaller road. We knew from our view of them the day before, the volcanoes were at the base of the mountain. Being from Florida means mountains are not my specialty. Having come to Korea I have gained a lot more experience, heck I even live in the mountains…but still the concept of traveling down those winding roads to the base is hard to fathom. But it was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. The wind whipped past us, the smell of the ocean growing as we took each turn down the mountain. The trees rippled past us, thousands of shades of green casting dappled shadows over the road. At certain turns the trees would open up and we could see out over the edge of the road. The canopy of trees stretched out like blankets of green, slipping up over the edges of the mountain across the valley. Halfway down we were treated with views of the ocean, shimmering and so very blue. Whenever I see the ocean now, it feels just a little bit like home, those masses of blue reaching off into the distance, fading between shades of turquoise and indigo.
It took us close to an hour to reach the bottom of the mountain and when we neared the bottom, the tiny copilot must have gotten tired because he fell back against his father, snoozing away. This left our driver to navigate the turns with 1 hand on the handlebars. Safety? What’s that? Luckily we arrived not long after and a long road extended parallel to the ocean. He pulled the tricycle into a resort and led us back to two rows of tiki huts.
“Hello ma’am, the boat will not return for a while, maybe you would like to eat while you wait?” a man asked, guiding us over to one of the huts. We had a great view of the water, and the boats rocking in the waves. The wind was quite rough ever since we had arrived in Tagaytay, pulling at the trees viciously. It wasn’t any better down by the water.
“Oh let’s get fried chicken! Let’s see how different it is from Korea!” Nadia suggested, eyes lighting up. Korean Fried Chicken is honestly my favorite chicken. It had such crispy skin and just the right amount of spice. Plus their dipping sauce was sweet and sticky and it was clear I was missing my “KFC” already. We went ahead and put in our order. In the hut next to us, a group of Caucasians sat down. There were quite a few women and a male, and from what we overheard of their accents, they were from Europe. Eventually one of the women wandered over to us.
“Hello! Have you both been here long? What has he said to you?” she asked us. We told her we had just arrived and that were about to eat since he said we had a wait ahead of us. As we were talking, the chicken arrived. She invited us to join her and her group on their boat and we accepted, then dug into our food. It was crispy, with a thinner skin than Korean chicken. They also gave us those delectable little limes and we squeezed them over the top.
“We should try every county’s friend chicken and pizza, for real,” Nadia said between bites. I nodded my agreement, not wasting time with a verbal confirmation. As we ate the man who seemed to be in charge came around, first to the group of friendly Europeans, and then to us to tell us the water was too rough for us to go out. The wind whipping at us let me know this was probably true, but that didn’t stop him from not only charging us for the chicken but also a “resort entry” fee. Nadia and I glanced at each other knowingly before just paying. They will get you for anything here.
Our driver told us he could take us somewhere else if we wanted, or take us back to the resort. We agreed on ziplining and before we piled back into the rickshaw we took some last minute photos of the gorgeous view of the water. It smelt different than back home, and of course the boats weren’t what I was used to, but being that close to water filled me with a calm very unique from the one I grew accustomed to living up in the mountains. Tagaytay was beautiful.
We settled in for the long drive back up the mountain, the nap the tiny copilot had taken filled him with new vigor as he bobbed up and down in front of his father. After reaching the top of the mountain he pulled into a sort of park, we paid the entrance fee and he walked us over to this small two story building. Long ropes were pulled taunt from this building another two story stand quite a distance away. Since I figured lounging on a boat or a beach was in my future, I did not pack accordingly for the new adventure we found ourselves on.
“Have you ever been ziplining?” I asked Nadia. She shook her head. “Well I have, but ziplining in a dress is a new one for me.”
The men working the attraction assured us it was alright for me to do so in a dress and told us to leave our bags with them. This didn’t sit well with us, and I think our driver sensed our hesitation. He graciously offered to hold our things while we were stuffed into the riggings. I pulled my dress down as far as I could as I stepped into the leg holes of the harness. It quickly turned my outfit into a sort of romper, and I awkwardly climbed the stairs to the lines. The view was spectacular. We were back atop the mountain, the rocks sloping down to the water and the volcanoes and islands off in the distance.
“Do you want me to go first?” I asked Nadia. She nodded and I let them buckle me onto the line. They pushed me off and I glided out over the small field. I started nearing the other tower when the man on it tossed something out along the line. I was not prepared for the sudden jolt as I hit it, knocked my head (which thankfully was adorned with a helmet) into the handlebars of my rigging. It was meant to slow me down, which it did instantly as I slammed into it. He pulled me the rest of the way in and released me, telling me to climb to the top level so I could return back. As I waited for Nadia, I soaked in the view.
It was always interesting to me when you grow up somewhere, surrounded by beauty, you begin to take it for granted. You just go about your daily tasks and forget to acknowledge what’s around you. I wanted to make sure I let the sight of those waters at the edge of the mountain seep into my mind. I heard a scream as Nadia slammed into the contraption. She started going into her Southern dialect in her fear, and it took all I had to not start laughing at the poor worker’s reaction. When she had calmed down enough we all climbed to the top and rode the line back to the start. After we did some touristy shopping, we decided to next explore the tallest mountain in Tagaytay.
He drove us up to a small parking lot and pointed to a stone archway that stood between us and the road, which climbed up at an even more severe angle. We walked up to the archway, paid our fee and started the trek. It seemed we were on another corner of the island, because the volcanoes were far off to our right as we climbed. As we rounded the first corner we could see the peak. Sticking out of the side of the mountain was a sign that looked as though it had once tried to emulate the “Hollywood” sign but now was crumbling and forgotten.
The buildings that adorned the peak looked like they used to hold some sort of splendor as well but were left to rust. This tragic degradation was strikingly beautiful to me. We climbed the rest of the curving road to the top and noticed that stalls which sold more tourist items had popped up in the clearly repurposed building. It looked like it used to be a sort of zoo as animal prints, though faded, covered many walls. It seemed a strange location for such a place, on top of a mountain? Or maybe it was a place of worship, because another building looked as though it was a shrine, having a huge stone cross above it. It was quite mysterious, but the view was breathtaking.
Nadia and I explored a little and settled in at the far corner of the roof of the shrine. The wind didn’t try and pull us from the mountain here and the ocean gleamed at the edges of our vision. We silently took it in, each caught up in our thoughts. This was the safest I had felt since coming to Tagaytay, and the most at peace. This was what I was looking for when we planned our trip to the Philippines, well…besides sandy beaches.
“It’s hard to believe that we are here, actually here..” Nadia mused. It was true. Besides my moments of disbelief in Korea, here we were in another foreign land having amazing adventures and seeing such gorgeous things. It was truly a sight to remember, and a time to really appreciate where life had taken us. We had worked so very hard to reach where we were in our lives, and we sure were going to get everything out of it we could.
That night we walked around the restaurants and stalls near our resort and bought some jack fruit which was yellow, juicy and tasty, but dear lord the outside of it was ugly. Then we had dinner at a gorgeous little café and had our fill of Crispy Pata, which was fried pork knuckle and Bulalo, beef shank stew. Nadia even had us stop at a bakery to try some pastries. After our first day in Tagaytay, hitting the ground running in a place we felt out of place and confused, we had seen the beauty of this city and got to sample even more amazing food of the Philippines. The next day would lead us back to Manila to catch a plane to the island of Palawan and the city of Puerto Princessa. Vacation was finally becoming everything we wanted it to be.